Offset smokers have become increasingly popular among pitmasters. Featuring a separate firebox that’s away from the main cooking compartment, an offset smoker offers the perfect environment in which to smoke meat. You can place your meat inside the main cooking compartment, and you can place your charcoal or wood in the separate, “offset” firebox. If you’re going to use an offset smoker, though, you’ll need to keep the fire going in it. Otherwise, the temperature will drop, which may prevent your meat from reaching a safe internal temperature.
What Is an Offset Smoker?
Before we reveal how to keep the fire going in an offset smoker, let’s first take a closer look at the basic mechanics of this outdoor cooking device. Like other smokers, an offset smoker is a cooking device that’s designed to cook meat, as well as veggies and other foods, by exposing them to heat and smoke for an extended period. The difference between traditional smokers and offset smokers lies in their design. Traditional smokers have a single compartment, whereas offset smokers have two compartments.
Offset smokers feature a main cooking compartment as well as a secondary compartment known as a firebox. The firebox is the smaller compartment that’s located on the side of the offset smoker. It’s used to contain charcoal and wool that, when ignited, produces heat and smoke that fills both the firebox as well as the main cooking compartment.
Set Up a Probe Thermometer
When using an offset smoker, you should set up a probe thermometer to measure the temperature of the main cooking compartment. Without a probe thermometer in place, you’ll struggle to maintain an appropriate cooking temperature for your meat. With that said, you shouldn’t place the probe thermometer inside your offset smoker’s firebox. Rather, set it up either on or directly below the cooking grate. Doing so will provide you with a more accurate reading of your offset smoker’s cooking temperature. If it drops below the safe cooking temperature — safe cooking temperatures vary depending on the type of meat — you can take action to raise the temperature of your offset smoker.
Add Lump Charcoal to Firebox
To prepare an offset smoker, add a moderate amount of lump charcoal to the firebox. You can (and should) use high-quality cooking wood or smoking chunks, as well. However, you’ll experience better results when starting your offset smoker exclusively with lump charcoal. You can either use a chimney starter to warm up the lump charcoal before pouring it into the firebox, or you can add the lump charcoal directly to the firebox and then light it. Regardless, try starting your offset smoker with a hot bed of lump charcoal.
Lump charcoal is preferred over briquette charcoal because of its ability to burn hotter. Briquette charcoal typically produces less heat, so stick with lump charcoal when cooking meat in your offset smoker.
Wait Until the Charcoal Is Hot Before Adding Wood
Once the lump charcoal is glowing orange and covered in a light layer of white ash, you can add your wood to the firebox. Don’t use just any type of wood, though. Because of its ability to affect the flavor of your food, as well as the temperature at which it cooks, you need to use the right type of wood.
Low-quality cooking wood like pine will adversely affect the flavor of your meat. The high moisture properties of pine wood prevent it from burning completely. As a result, it will produce thick black smoke that’s filled with particulate matter known as soot. Some of this soot will travel from the firebox into your offset smoker’s main cooking compartment where it sticks to your meat.
What type of wood should you use when smoking meat in an offset smoker? You can use either high-quality cooking wood or smoking chunks. High-quality cooking wood consists of small, conveniently sized logs derived from hardwood trees like oak or hickory. In comparison, smoking chunks consist of smaller blocks of high-quality wood derived from the same or similar hardwood trees.
Add Your Meat
Assuming the lump charcoal has turned glowing orange — and you’ve added cooking wood or smoking to it — you can proceed to add your meat. Some pitmasters add their meat at the same time when they add their charcoal, believing it’s harmless. If you add your meat while the lump charcoal is still cold, though, it may create an unpleasant flavor. Both charcoal and wood require hot temperatures to burn completely. When cool, they’ll produce soot that, as previously, mentioned will stick to any meats or veggies that you are smoking. By waiting until the charcoal is hot, you’ll create a hotter, more stable internal temperature that results in better-tasting food.
Adjust the Dampers
You can keep the fire going in your offset smoker by adjusting the dampers. Although there are exceptions, most offset smokers have two dampers. Dampers are air vents that you can open and close to control airflow. You can typically find a single damper on the top of the main compartment’s lid as well as another damper on the bottom of the firebox. To keep the fire going in your offset smoker, you’ll need to adjust the dampers accordingly.
Normally, you’ll need to have both dampers on your offset smoker at least partially open at all times. If either of them are fully closed, it will restrict air from entering the firebox, resulting in the fire going out. With the dampers partially open, on the other hand, air will flow into the firebox and out of the main compartment. With that said, you can increase the temperature of your offset smoker by fully opening the dampers.
Poke the Coals
If you notice the temperature inside your offset smoker dropping, poking the coals may help raise it. While wearing heat-resistant gloves, carefully open the firebox and poke the coals with a metal fire poker. Poking will stir up the coals while fueling them with fresh oxygen in the process.
Add More Wood As Needed
In addition to adjusting the dampers, as well as poking the coals, adding more wood will keep the fire going in your offset smoker. Whether you use cooking wood, smoking chunks or a combination thereof, they’ll eventually burn to ash. You can make them burn a little slower by placing them next to the lump charcoal rather than directly on it. Eventually, though, you may need to add more wood, especially if you’re smoking a thick piece of meat like a beef brisket for multiple hours.
Offset smokers feature a unique design that makes them ideal for smoking meat. They allow you to place your meat away from the fire where it can cook more slowly and for a longer period. If you’re going to use an offset smoker, however, you’ll need to keep the fire going. If the fire goes out, conventional wisdom should lead you to believe that the temperature will drop. And if the internal temperature of your offset smoker drops too low, you may struggle to fully cook your meat.
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